‘ I LIK E THAT IT ’ S TAXING ON THE BRAIN’
Aston Martin test driver Chris Goodwin reveals what it takes to set up a new car such as the 003
‘THERE IS A SET OF FACES THAT I HAVE IN THE BACK of my mind,’ says Chris Goodwin. This might sound like day one, session one on a psychiatrist’s couch, but Aston Martin’s expert high-performance test driver is actually talking about how he crafts a car. He has been with the company just over a year now (he was previously at McLaren – his final cars there were the Senna and the 600LT) working flat-out on the Valkyrie, embedded within Red Bull in Milton Keynes, spending long days on the simulator.
But today we’re chatting about the 003 and I’m keen to know how he goes about setting up a new car, or in Aston’s case a whole new range of cars. With so many dynamic directions he could take, surely it would be easy to let personal preference take over? That’s where the faces come in. ‘I’ve got a lot of experience in this area now and I’ve become personally very familiar with the customer base,’ explains Goodwin. ‘I can recall the conversations about cars with people who have said, “It was amazing when you did this,” or “If only you could have done that.”’
The fizzogs that he has in mind, then, are real people with real preferences and, presumably, wide-ranging levels of ability behind the wheel. And this is what helps him frame some of the development. The logical next line of questioning, then, is to wonder if it ever feels like he’s trying to please too many people, but as he points out, while there is an older generation of cars where a Sport button really doesn’t make much difference, ‘you can create two or three cars in one with the current tech’, thereby catering for a much broader clientele.
Goodwin also points out that he has confidence in not just what the customers will want but what Aston Martin is trying to achieve. Through spending a lot of time in Aston’s core cars (Vantage, DB11, DBS, etc), working with Aston Martin Racing and having ‘lots of cups of coffee with Matt Becker’ (Aston’s chief engineer) over the last 12 months, he has got ‘a good feel for the company’. And when you feel comfortable with the broader elements of what a company is trying to achieve, you can be that much more confident in the direction you plan to go while developing a car.
Of course, with so much of the technology being new to cars, let alone Aston Martin, it must be tricky to develop. I’m intrigued, for example, how he will approach the new FlexFoil aerodynamics. But Goodwin seems unfazed, drawing comparisons with the cutting-edge active suspension on the Valkyrie. Put simply, ‘you apply basic physics principles, and then you simulate it,’ he says. ‘Yes, you might have to invent something rather than just fettle existing off-the-shelf tech, but that’s what drives me. I like that it’s taxing on the brain.’ And of course, as Goodwin is quick to say, he works with the sort of incredibly clever people at Red Bull Advanced Technologies that would tax almost anyone else.
As with the Valkyrie, the simulator will clearly play an incredibly important role in developing the 003, but one of the trickiest parts will be when they translate the car across from the virtual to the real world. Goodwin explains that somewhere such as Millbrook – which would be a very convenient test facility to use in the UK – was built in the ’60s. It wasn’t designed with something as fast as the 003 in mind. Even using the bigger European proving grounds such as Nardò in Italy (opened in ’75) and Idiada in Spain (ribbon cut in ’71) you have to be quite specific about where you go for certain bits of testing.
But again this is where Goodwin’s experience pays dividends. Just as he has a set of faces, so he seems to have a mental scrapbook of the places where he wants to put the 003 through its paces. He knows exactly the uphill hairpin, the specific motorway expansion joints, the perfect fifth-gear sweeper, the ideal jumps, lumps and compressions that will test the 003. After he’s finished with Aston Martin’s mid-engined supercars, perhaps he should craft a new proving ground…